Was it the heat during last night’s outdoor red carpet parade that caused so many stars walking on the catwalk to look less than fresh, more than flustered? Or were they just not in a mood to saunter down a scarlet track that did not lead to the Dolby Theatre, Hollywood? It was hard to tell. The annual Star Awards, now into its twentieth show, was a curious display of star awkwardness, flanked by a thin crowd of not particularly keyed up fans. This was an important night for Mediacorps stars, but few appeared raring to go. The younger ones, not visibly ferried into the Suntec City venue in fancy cars, clearly looked like they were walking their final walk during a deportment class.
The red carpet tradition prior to the commencement of award ceremonies is quintessentially Western and a recent one. Back in the days of the ancient Greeks, a carpet in the colour of blood was only laid out for the gods, who, being immortal, must not step on bare ground should they wish to visit their earthly domain. The first mention of the red carpet in text is reported to be in the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus, written in 458 BC, but unlike those who walked on the red carpet last night, the title character’s reluctant stroll (he being man, not a god) led him not to an award ceremony, but to his death, perpetrated, no less, by his scheming wife!
Later, the red carpet was associated with royalty and nobility, and it was only the royals and nobles that walked on the red carpet laid out in castles. This regal amble was a formality to put power out on display, and in the centre. Onlookers—and there were many—would scrutinise the walkers dressed in courtly splendour. In recent centuries, this practice is extended mostly to heads of state and their wives, who, like their precursors, were observed for their public manner and their glamourous dress.
Similarly, observing those or gawking at them on the Star Award carpet is perhaps a natural reaction to such a formal and splashy display. However, it would be absurd to consider what the MediaCorps stars wore last night as courtly styles; unless you consider the event they were attending the court of entertainment, which is not flippant since many fans see royalty among the stars. Perhaps it may be more apt to deem what was worn as ceremonial dress since the wearers were attending a ceremony, just as a bridal gown is a ceremonial dress, put on for a very specific ritual, and not after that. Red carpet ceremonial finery is best exemplified by Nicole Kidman in Dior Couture and Uma Thurman in Prada, both at the Academy Awards, and both never to be seen in those gowns again.
The Star Awards did not always require the entertainers to walk a very public red carpet. Until 2010 (with a couple of exceptions in preceding years), the ceremonies were held in Caldecott Hill. The introduction of a pre-show red carpet ritual, it would appear, corresponded with a growing commercial culture, a culture of dreams that held an alluring, Instagram-worthy promise: anyone—good-looking or not, talented or not—could be transformed into a more striking, more appealing version of themselves. Until the night of the event, so many of the chosen had not worn such high fashion, nor considered the implication of showing off what they were seduced to wear. Aided by a band of image makers from different camps, these normally ordinary-looking stars were able to morph into avatars with a high glamour quotient. The red carpet is a microcosm of makeover, rebirth, movement, drama, popularity, notoriety, seriousness, artificiality, beauty, and, of course, fashion.
That leads us to one question and, maybe, the only one that matters: how many of the outfits worn by the stars last night merit a red carpet parade?
Perhaps it would be more pertinent to count those that did not. There’s a misconception (and it isn’t unique to our shores) that flounces, poufs, layers of silk chiffon, lots of lace, fish-tail skirts, bustiers, fringing, beading, all have a confirmed place on the red carpet, and once worn by a celebrity, become the epitome of style. The regrettable thing is, the celebrities (and their stylists) feel the same way too. There is a getai attitude to this: you so rarely get to dress up to wow and when you do, you go all the way out, sometimes, way, way out. Consider, too, the competitive nature of such displays. Newer and younger entertainers strive to look as good as the established artistes, while the older ones don’t wish to appear outmoded—a match-up, ironically, modulated in such a way as to be conventional.
Last night, the clothes were, at best, predictable, except Quan Yifeng’s. She wore a black-and-white three-piece skirt-suit designed by her daughter! You couldn’t say Ms Quan did not take a risk. To put her untested kid out there could either be punishment or humiliation for the lass, both, in stricter societies, would be considered child abuse. Fortunately, the black jacket thrown over the shoulder like a cape; the black V-neck bustier with a pair of broad, white Vs below the neckline to underscore the mother’s ample bosoms; and the high-waisted white pencil skirt were not offensive, but this was a runway, not a walkway somewhere in tai-tai land.
Cleavage baring and starlets are such obligatory pairing that you would be disappointed if they did not show up on the red carpet. Chris Tong strutted, hand-in-hand, with Priscelia Chan, and both were decked out in floaty dresses with very low-cut necklines and very exposed backs. Ms Chan, in Diane Von Furstenberg, basked in a neckline that plunged to her waist, opening up the grateful eyes of males waiting for the night to suddenly turn windy.
And there were those who trusted their stylist enough to not wear a real dress. Joanna Peh, whose confidence was boosted by boyfriend Qi Yuwu’s presence, was sheathed in four pieces of Hermes scarves with the sum of colours akin to parrots’ tail, tied and stitched together as a halter-neck number. She might as well have worn four pieces of Hermes handkerchiefs. Or towels—it won’t matter since she appeared ready to walk down a beach to view a setting sun. On the beach, a scarf goes by a humbler name: pareo.
Some just wanted to look grown up. Julie Tan ditched her usual sweetness for something almost dishevelled: shaggy silver jacket-as-shrug over a black fringed dress by Frederick Lee Couture. Unsteady in red heels, she looked like the Little Match Girl garbed by the Salvation Army to go to a prom hosted by Elvira.
Two of the stars were counting on hongbao red for an arresting turn on the red carpet. Rui En, engulfed in crimson, swished in a big gown by New York wedding dress designer Romona Keveza. The bodice with an asymmetric neckline had a shape that was reminiscent of decorative items fashioned out of hongbaos during the Lunar New Year. Chen Liping, outfitted by 3-year-old local brand Zardoze, was in a torso-hugging lace dress with fringing that could have come from a lantern.
However hard these artistes tried, they were a sleeve’s length away from impressing. So near yet so far. While they provided sensory delights, they were a distance from delightful. Some people think the Star Awards red carpet will always be lacklustre because we do not have provocateurs such as Cher, goofballs such as Bjork, and eccentrics such as Helena Bonham Carter. But neither do we have sophisticates such as Cate Blanchette, Tilda Swinton, and most recently, Lupita Nyong’o.